Edison's conception of matter was quoted in our March editorial article. The great American electrician is reported by Mr. G. Parsons Lathrop in Harper's Magazine as giving out his personal belief about the atoms being "possessed by a certain amount of intelligence," and shown indulging in other reveries of this kind. For this flight of fancy the February Review of Reviews takes the inventor of the phonograph to task and critically remarks that "Edison is much given to dreaming," his "scientific imagination" being constantly at work.
Would to goodness the men of science exercised their "scientific imagination" a little more and their dogmatic and cold negations a little less. Dreams differ. In that strange state of being which, as Byron has it, puts us in a position "with seal'd eyes to see," one often perceives more real facts than when awake. Imagination is, again, one of the strongest elements in human nature, or in the words of Dugald Stewart it "is the great spring of human activity, and the principal source of human improvement. . . . Destroy the faculty, and the condition of men will become as stationary as that of brutes." It is the best guide of our blind senses, without which the latter could never lead us beyond matter and its illusions. The greatest discoveries of modern science are due to the imaginative faculty of the discoverers. But when has anything new been postulated, when a theory clashing with and contradicting a comfortably settled predecessor put forth, without orthodox science first sitting on it, and trying to crush it out of existence? Harvey was also regarded at first as a "dreamer and a madman to boot. Finally, the whole of modem science is formed of "working hypotheses," the fruits of "scientific imagination" as Mr. Tyndall felicitously called it.
Is it then, because consciousness in every universal atom and the possibility of a complete control over the cells and atoms of his body by man, have not been honored so far with the imprimatur of the Popes of exact science, that the idea is to be dismissed as a dream? Occultism gives the same teaching. Occultism tells us that every atom, like the monad of Leibnitz, is a little universe in itself; and that every organ and cell in the human body is endowed with a brain of its own, with memory, therefore, experience and discriminative powers. The idea of Universal Life composed of individual atomic lives is one of the oldest teachings of esoteric philosophy, and the very modern hypothesis of modern science, that of crystalline life, is the first ray from the ancient luminary of knowledge that has reached our scholars. If plants can be shown to have nerves and sensations and instinct (but another word for consciousness), why not allow the same in the cells of the human body? Science divides matter into organic and inorganic bodies, only because it rejects the idea of absolute life and a life-principle as an entity: otherwise it would be the first to see that absolute life cannot produce even a geometrical point, or an atom inorganic in its essence. But Occultism, you see, "teaches mysteries" they say; and mystery is the negation of common sense, just as again metaphysics is but a kind of poetry, according to Mr. Tyndall. There is no such thing for science as mystery; and therefore, as a Life Principle is, and must remain for the intellects of our civilized races for ever a mystery on physical lines they who deal in this question have to be of necessity either fools or knaves.
Dixit. Nevertheless, we may repeat with a French preacher: "mystery is the fatality of science." Official science is surrounded on every side and hedged in by unapproachable, for ever impenetrable mysteries. And why? Simply because physical science is self-doomed to a squirrel-like progress around a wheel of matter limited by our five senses. And though it is as confessedly ignorant of the formation of matter, as of the generation of a simple cell; though it is as powerless to explain what is this, that, or the other, it will yet dogmatize and insist on what life, matter and the rest are not. It comes to this: the words of Father Felix addressed fifty years ago to the French academicians have nearly become immortal as a truism. "Gentlemen," he said, "you throw into our teeth the reproach that we teach mysteries. But imagine whatever science you will; follow the magnificent sweep of its deductions. . . . and when you arrive at its parent source you come face to face with the unknown!"
Now to lay at rest once for all in the minds of Theosophists this vexed question, we intend to prove that modern science, owing to physiology, is itself on the eve of discovering that consciousness is universal thus justifying Edison's "dreams." But before we do this, we mean also to show that though many a man of science is soaked through and through with such belief, very few are brave enough to openly admit it, as the late Dr. Pirogoff of St. Petersburg has done in his posthumous Memoirs. Indeed that great surgeon and pathologist raised by their publication quite a howl of indignation among his colleagues. How then? the public asked: He, Dr. Pirogoff, whom we regarded as almost the embodiment of European learning, believing in the superstitions of crazy alchemists? He, who in the words of a contemporary:
Of what? Why, of the existence in every organism of a distinct "VITAL FORCE" independent of any physical or chemical process. Like Liebig he accepted the derided and tabooed homogeneity of nature a Life Principle that persecuted and hapless teleology, or the science of the final causes of things, which is as philosophical as it is unscientific, ifwe have to believe imperial and royal academies. His unpardonable sin in the eyes of dogmatic modern science, however, was this: The great anatomist and surgeon, had the "hardihood" to declare in his Memoirs, that:
Such are the chief features of the heresy of one, who ranked high among the men of exact science of this age. His Memoirs show plainly that not only he believed in Universal Deity, divine Ideation, or the Hermetic "Thought divine," and a Vital Principle, but taught all this, and tried to demonstrate it scientifically. Thus he argues that Universal Mind needs no physico-chemical, or mechanical brain as an organ of transmission. He even goes so far as to admit it in these suggestive words:
He explains this belief by confessing that never, during his long life so full of study, observation, and experiments, could he
And he adds à propos of Moleschott's materialism:
For, as remarks elsewhere this great and philosophic man of Science:
The above selections translated verbatim from the confessions of one who was during his long life a star of the first magnitude in the fields of pathology and surgery, show him imbued and soaked through with the philosophy of a reasoned and scientific mysticism. In reading the Memoirs of that man of scientific fame, we feel proud of finding him accepting, almost wholesale, the fundamental doctrines and beliefs of Theosophy. With such an exceptionally scientific mind in the ranks of mystics, the idiotic grins, the cheap satires and flings at our great Philosophy by some European and American "Freethinkers," become almost a compliment. More than ever do they appear to us like the frightened discordant cry of the night-owl hurrying to hide in its dark ruins before the light of the morning Sun.
The progress of physiology itself, as we have just said, is a sure warrant that the dawn of that day when a full recognition of a universally diffused mind will be an accomplished fact, is not far off. It is only a question of time.
For, notwithstanding the boast of physiology, that the aim of its researches is only the summing up of every vital function in order to bring them into a definite order by showing their mutual relations to, and connection with, the laws of physics and chemistry, hence, in their final form with mechanical laws we fear there is a good deal of contradiction between the confessed object and the speculations of some of the best of our modern physiologists. While few of them would dare to return as openly as did Dr. Pirogoff to the "exploded superstition" of vitalism and the severely exiled life principle, the principium vitæ of Paracelsus yet physiology stands sorely perplexed in the face of its ablest representatives before certain facts. Unfortunately for us, this age of ours is not conducive to the development of moral courage. The time for most to act on the noble idea of" principia non homines," has not yet come. And yet there are exceptions to the general rule, and physiology whose destiny it is to become the hand-maiden of Occult truths has not let the latter remain without their witnesses. There are those who are already stoutly protesting against certain hitherto favorite propositions. For instance, some physiologists are already denying that it is the forces and substances of so-called "inanimate" nature, which are acting exclusively in living beings. For, as they well argue:
Such are the teachings of physical Science, and such were in their roughest outlines those of Occultism, æons and millenniums back. The difference, however, and most vital distinction between the two teachings, is this: official science sees in motion simply a blind, unreasoning force or law; Occultism, tracing motion to its origin, identifies it with the Universal Deity, and calls this eternal ceaseless motion the "Great Breath."1
Nevertheless, however limited the conception of Modern Science about the said Force, still it is suggestive enough to have forced the following remark from a great Scientist, the present professor of physiology at the University of Basle,2 who speaks like an Occultist.
And forthwith the lecturer adds that man being endowed "in addition to his physical senses with an inner sense," a perception which gives him the possibility of observing the states and phenomena of his own consciousness, "he has to use that indealing with animate nature" a profession of faith verging suspiciously on the borders of Occultism. He denies, moreover, the assumption, that the states and phenomena of consciousness represent in substance the same manifestations of motion as in the external world, and bases his denial by the reminder that not all of such states and manifestations have necessarily a spatial extension. According to him that only is connected with our conception of space which has reached our consciousness through sight, touch, and the muscular sense, while all the other senses, all the effects, tendencies, as all the interminable series of representations, have no extension in space but only in time.
Thus he asks:
The winding up argument of the lecturer is most interesting to Theosophists. Says this physiologist of the modern school of Materialism
Hitherto the opponents of vitalism and "life-principle," as well as the followers of the mechanical theory of life, based their views on the supposed fact, that, as physiology was progressing forward, its students succeeded more and more in connecting its functions with the laws of blind matter. All those manifestations that used to be attributed to a "mystical life-force," they said, may be brought now under physical and chemical laws. And they were, and still are loudly clamoring for the recognition of the fact that it is only a question of time when it will be triumphantly demonstrated that the whole vital process, in its grand totality, represents nothing more mysterious than a very complicated phenomenon of motion, exclusively governed by the forces of inanimate nature.
But here we have a professor of physiology who asserts that the history of physiology proves, unfortunately for them, quite the contrary; and he pronounces these ominous words:
This is a terrible blow at the puffed-up bladder known as Materialism, which is as empty as it is dilated. A Judas in the camp of the apostles of negation the "animalists"! But the Basle professor is no solitary exception, as we have just shown; and there are several physiologists who are of his way of thinking; indeed some of them going so far as to almost accept free-will and consciousness, in the simplest monadic protoplasms!
One discovery after the other tends in this direction. The works of some German physiologists are especially interesting with regard to cases of consciousness and positive discrimination one is almost inclined to say thought in the Ambas. Now the Ambas or animalculæ are, as all know, microscopical protoplasms as the Vampyrella Sirogyra for instance, a most simple elementary cell, a protoplasmic drop, formless and almost structureless. And yet it shows in its behavior something for which zoologists, if they do not call it mind and power of reasoning, will have to find some other qualification, and coin a new term. For see what Cienkowsky3 says of it. Speaking of this microscopical, bare, reddish cell he describes the way in which it hunts for and finds among a number of other aquatic plants one called Spirogyra, rejecting every other food. Examining its peregrinations under a powerful microscope, he found it when moved by hunger, first projecting its pseudopodiæ (false feet) by the help of which it crawls. Then it commences moving about until among a great variety of plants it comes across a Spirogyra, after which it proceeds toward the cellulated portion of one of the cells of the latter, and placing itself on it, it bursts the tissue, sucks the contents of one cell and then passes on to another, repeating the same process. This naturalist never saw it take any other food, and it never touched any of the numerous plants placed by Cienkowsky in its way. Mentioning another Amba the Colpadella Pugnax he says that he found it showing the same predilection for the Chlamydomonas on which it feeds exclusively; "having made a puncture in the body of the Chlamydomonas it sucks its chlorophyl and then goes away," he writes, adding these significant words: "The way of acting of these monads during their search for and reception of food, is so amazing that one is almost inclined to see in them consciously acting beings!"
Not less suggestive are the observations of Th. W. Engelman (Beitraege zur Physiologie des Protoplasm), on the Arcella, another unicellular organism only a trifle more complex than the Vampyrella. He shows them in a drop of water under a microscope on a piece of glass, lying so to speak, on their backs, i.e., on their convex side, so that the pseudopodiæ, projected from the edge of the shell, find no hold in space and leave the Amba helpless. Under these circumstances the following curious fact is observed. Under the very edge of one of the sides of the protoplasm gas-bubbles begin immediately to form, which, making that side lighter, allow it to be raised, bringing at the same time the opposite side of the creature into contact with the glass, thus furnishing its pseudo or false feet means to get hold of the surface and thereby turning over its body to raise itself on all its pseudopodiæ. After this, the Amba proceeds to suck back into itself the gas-bubbles and begins to move. If a like drop of water is placed on the lower extremity of the glass, then, following the law of gravity the Ambæ will find themselves at first at the lower end of the drop of water. Failing to find there a point of support, they proceed to generate large bubbles of gas, when, becoming lighter than the water, they are raised up to the surface of the drop.
In the words of Engelman:
Among hundreds of accusations against Asiatic nations of degrading superstitions, based on "crass ignorance," there exists no more serious denunciation than that which accuses and convicts them of personifying and even deifying the chief organs of,and in, the human body. Indeed, do not we hear these "benighted fools" of Hindus speaking of the small-pox as a goddess thus personifying the microbes of the variolic virus? Do we not read about Tantrikas, a sect of mystics, giving proper names to nerves, cells and arteries, connecting and identifying various parts of the body with deities, endowing functions and physiological processes with intelligence, and what not? The vertebræ, fibers, ganglia, the cord, etc., of the spinal column; the heart, its four chambers, auricle and ventricle, valves and the rest; stomach, liver, lungs and spleen, everything has its special deific name, is believed to act consciously and to act under the potent will of the Yogi, whose head and heart are the seats of Brahmâ and the various parts of whose body are all the pleasure grounds of this or another deity!
This is indeed ignorance. Especially when we think that the said organs, and the whole body of man are composed of cells, and these cells are now being recognised as individual organisms and quien sabe will come perhaps to be recognized some day as an independent race of thinkers inhabiting the globe, called man! It really looks like it. For was it not hitherto believed that all the phenomena of assimilation and sucking in of food by the intestinal canal, could be explained by the laws of diffusion and endosmosis? And now, alas, physiologists have come to learn that the action of the intestinal canal during the act of absorbing, is not identical with the action of the non-living membrane in the dialyser. It is now well demonstrated that
And the lecturer queries, why, if this discrimination inthe selection of food exists in the simplest and most elementary of the cells, in the formless and structureless protoplasmic drops why it should not exist also in the epithelium cells of our intestinal canal. Indeed, if the Vampyrella recognises its much beloved Spirogyra, among hundreds of other plants as shown above, why should not the epithelium cell, sense, choose and select its favorite drop of fat from a pigmental grain? But we will be told that "sensing, choosing, and selecting" pertain only to reasoning beings, at least to the instinct of more structural animals than is the protoplasmic cell outside or inside man. Agreed; but as we translate from the lecture of a learned physiologist and the works of other learned naturalists, we can only say, that these learned gentlemen must know what they are talking about; though they are probably ignorant of the fact that their scientific prose is but one degree removed from the ignorant, superstitious, but rather poetical "twaddle" of the Hindu Yogis and Tantrikas.
Anyhow, our professor of physiology falls foul of the materialistic theories of diffusion and endosmosis. Armed with the facts of the evident discrimination and a mind in the cells, he demonstrates by numerous instances the fallacy of trying to explain certain physiological processes by mechanical theories; such for instance as the passing of sugar from the liver (where it is transformed into glucose) into the blood. Physiologists find great difficulty in explaining this process, and regard it as an impossibility to bring it under the endosmosic laws. In all probability the lymphatic cells play just as active a part during the absorption of alimentary substances dissolved in water, as the peptics do, a process well demonstrated by F. Hofmeister.6 Generally speaking, poor convenient endosmose is dethroned and exiled from among the active functionaries of the human body as a useless sinecurist. It has lost its voice in the matter of glands and other agents of secretion, in the action of which the same epithelium cells have replaced it. The mysterious faculties of selection, of extracting from the blood one kind of substance and rejecting another, of transforming the former by means of decomposition and synthesis, of directing some of the products into passages which will throw them out of the body and redirecting others into lymphatic and blood vessels such is the work of the cells. "It is evident that in all this there is not the slightest hint at diffusion or endosmose," says the Basle physiologist. "It becomes entirely useless to try and explain these phenomena by chemical laws."
But perhaps physiology is luckier in some other department? Failing in the laws of alimentation, it may have found some consolation for its mechanical theories in the question of the activity of muscles and nerves, which it sought to explain by electric laws? Alas, save in a few fishes in no other living organisms, least of all in the human body, could it find any possibility of pointing out electric currents as the chief ruling agency. Electrobiology on the lines of pure dynamic electricity has egregiously failed. Ignorant of "Fohat" no electrical currents suffice to explain to it either muscular or nervous activity!
But there is such a thing as the physiology of external sensations. Here we are no longer on terra incognita, and all such phenomena have already found purely physical explanations. No doubt, there is the phenomenon of sight, the eye with its optical apparatus, its camera obscura. But the fact of the sameness of the reproduction of things in the eye, according to the same laws of refraction as on the plate of a photographic machine, is no vital phenomenon. The same may be reproduced on a dead eye. The phenomenon of life consists in the evolution and development of the eye itself. How is this marvellous and complicated work produced? To this physiology replies, "We do not know"; for, toward the solution of this great problem
The underlined words in the concluding portion of the able Professor's lecture are worthy of an Occultist. Indeed, he seems to be repeating an aphorism from the "Elementary Instructions" of the esoteric physiology of practical Occultism:
The problem for Materialism is a terrible one, indeed! Shall our cells, and infinitesimal monads in nature, do for us that which the arguments of the greatest Pantheistic philosophers have hitherto failed to do? Let us hope so. And if they do, then the "superstitious and ignorant" Eastern Yogis, and even their exoteric followers, will find themselves vindicated. For we hear from the same physiologist that
If the reader turns to Webster's Dictionary he will find therein a curious explanation at the words "lymphatic" and "Lymph." Etymologists think that the Latin word lympha is derived from the Greek nymphe, "a nymph or inferior Goddess," they say. "The Muses were sometimes called nymphs by the poets. Hence (according to Webster) all persons in a state of rapture, as seers, poets, madmen, etc., were said to be caught by the nymphs."
The Goddess of Moisture (the Greek and Latin nymph or lymph, then) is fabled in India as being born from the pores of one of the Gods, whether the Ocean God, Varuna, or a minor "River God" is left to the particular sect and fancy of the believers. But the main question is, that the ancient Greeks and Latins are thus admittedly known to have shared in the same "superstitions" as the Hindus. This superstition is shown in their maintaining to this day that every atom of matter in the four (or five) Elements is an emanation from an inferior God or Goddess, himself or herself an earlier emanation from a superior deity; and, moreover, that each of these atoms being Brahmâ, one of whose names is Anu, or atom no sooner is it emanated than it becomes endowed with consciousness, each of its kind, and free-will, acting within the limits of law. Now, he who knows that the kosmic trimurti (trinity) composed of Brahmâ, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Siva, the Destroyer, is a most magnificent and scientific symbol of the material Universe and its gradual evolution; and who finds a proof of this, in the etymology of the names of these deities,8 plus the doctrines of Gupta Vidya, or esoteric knowledge knows also how to correctly understand this "superstition." The five fundamental titles of Vishnu added to that of Anu (atom) common to all the trimurtic personages which are, Bhutâtman, one with the created or emanated materials of the world; Pradhanâtman, "one with the senses;" Paramâtman, "Supreme Soul"; and Atman, Kosmic Soul, or the Universal Mind show sufficiently what the ancient Hindus meant by endowing with mind and consciousness every atom and giving it a distinct name of a God or a Goddess. Place their Pantheon, composed of 30 crores (or 300 millions) of deities within the macrocosm (the Universe), or inside the microcosm (man), and the number will not be found overrated, since they relate to the atoms, cells, and molecules of everything that is.
This, no doubt, is too poetical and abstruse for our generation, but it seems decidedly as scientific, if not more so, than the teachings derived from the latest discoveries of Physiology and Natural History.
Lucifer, April, 1890
H. P. Blavatsky
1 Vide "Secret Doctrine," vol. i, pp. 2 and 3.
back to text
7 Life and activity are but two different
names for the same idea, or, what is still more
correct, they are two words with which the men of science
connect no definite idea whatever. Nevertheless,
and perhaps just for that, they are obliged to use them,
for they contain the point of contact between the most difficult
problems over which, in fact, the greatest thinkers
of the materialistic school have ever tripped.
8 Brahmâ comes from the root brih,
"to expand," to "scatter";
Vishnu from the root vis or vish (phonetically)
"to enter into," "to pervade" the universe,
of matter. As to Siva the patron of the Yogis,
the etymology of his name would remain incomprehensible to
the casual reader.